A Public Service: The Predator Next Door by Darlene Ellison

This is an incredibly hard review to write. Not only because of the subject of the book but because I want to do the book justice. I am the father of a six-year-old so while I know that this topic is vitally important, it is also deeply unpleasant. The author of The Predator Next Door, Darlene Ellison, has been to hell and back. A short description of the book: Darlene Ellison married a successful Dallas-area dentist. One day in 2005 she came home to find FBI agents ransacking her home. It turned out that her husband – who had become increasingly erratic and verbally abusive – was going to be arrested for soliciting sex with a minor. He was a member of NAMBLA and he’d been hiding his secret for years. Ellison comes to fear that her husband abused her son and daughter or their friends. Everything that she thought she knew about her husband turned out to be the worst kind of lie.

It seems entirely crass to write that a book like this is a “page turner,” but it is. Like the most effective true crime books, you read the book knowing what’s going to happen, but you still turn the pages hoping that it’s not the case. It reads like an episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” but this was her actual life – she expertly lets this story unfold, as she uncovers the horrifying mystery of her husband’s life. What makes the book so particularly powerful is that Ellison is so brazenly honest. She has every reason to be protective and guarded about her past, but she is powerfully and endearingly honest about the entire ordeal – both the humiliation she went through upon learning what kind of man she’d married and how she transcended this trauma and turned it into a force for good.

The book reads like it was compelled to be written – that it needed to be written so that it could be read by a great many people. It is an important book for anyone who has been impacted by this issue, or really for anyone who has kids or knows kids – i.e. most everybody. It not only works as a primer about dealing with this issue itself, but Ellison offers a step by step guide about how to deal with the stages of grief when confronted by any problem that shakes your foundations. The book is as much as self-help book as it is a description of what Darlene Ellison went through. She’s come out the other side and has persevered, appearing on Oprah and becoming a crusader for this very important cause.

The central thesis of the book makes a very important point: a sex offender isn’t necessarily somebody who makes his intentions immediately obvious, but it can be anybody, including a family man. For instance, a sex offender may be nothing like the abuser in “Little Children” – the movie, I haven’t read the novel – who is creepy in every way. In actuality, a sex offender could be just about anyone, and the argument can be made that “Little Children” does more harm than good when portraying the reality of sex offenders: they are just not that easy to spot. Given that 90% of abuse cases are with a familiar person – not a stranger – it is something everyone needs to be aware of. The Predator Next Door isn’t just a book, it’s a public service.

Personally, I have made a point of never posting pictures of my child online, and I’m pretty suspicious of strangers – frankly, it makes me nervous to even mention I have a child, but my status as a father is important for this review. In the past, I’ve felt like maybe my caution was a case of paranoia and overprotectiveness, but as this book makes clear, that’s just not the case. Of course, Ellison went through a worst case scenario, but it is important for people to be watchful – not overly suspicious, but certainly vigilant. As the book also makes clear, it’s possibly to transcend such a terrible issue and persevere, which makes the book a two-fold public service.

It seems tough to criticize such a book, but if there’s anything to criticize it’s that the book’s major emphasis is on a faith in God to help get you through difficult times. She is a devout Christian herself. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, and the book does emphasize a faith in a general “God” rather than “Jesus” – so God is whatever you make it out to be, much like the 12-step program of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. But at the same time, this is an issue that affects atheists and agnostics as much as it affects anybody else, so that could have been addressed as well.

However, anyone who does identify themselves as an atheist should be able to get a great deal from this book. Her story is compelling and important and her methods for rising out of the ashes of a terrible situation is uplifting, no matter what your beliefs. It’s not just a book about overcoming this one issue, but overcoming any type of betrayal or intense pain – whether it’s adultery or someone you know being the victim of a terrible crime, or something else. That’s why this book is so successful – because even though her circumstance is rare, it is also totally relatable, as everyone has felt pain and regret. Her incredible strength in facing such a dire circumstance is key to why this book is universally accessible and important. It’s a difficult read, but a necessary one.

Winner of the Gold Award (highest honor) at the 2009 IPPYs.

Visit High Touch Alliances, Darlene Ellison’s site and organization.